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Re-Printed From SLCentral

Sohoware Netblaster II 802.11b Wireless Networking Kit
Author: Chris Oh
Date Posted: August 17th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/hardware/networking/sohoware/netblasterii

Introduction

Consumer networking over the past couple of years has evolved into something more than just the Internet and Ethernet. When computer prices started to drop heavily through competition in the past 2 years, there has been an amazing surge of networking demands for the home as more families could afford to have more than one computer. With more computers comes more demand for the Internet and file sharing and access to printers. Networking allows for all that and when combined with broadband Ethernet connections, it is something every family should experience. Lets take a look at all of the different popular (and unpopular) methods of home networking brought to you by popular (and unpopular) companies. There were always traditional methods of networking such as Cat5 cabling through Ethernet cards and the strange serial to serial port connections. These led to innovations such as phoneline networking (we have quite a few reviews on these units) and the questionable power outlet networking. Although good for the home, the 2 latter methods could not even be considered for business uses because of their many flaws. The phoneline kits were very good but very, very slow… much slower than their rated speeds and if you have a DSL connection in the same phone line, you might run into problems down the line with speed and connectivity. Also, arranging your computer in places with a phone outlet is a hassle, especially with older homes with only one or two outlets. Power is another story: fluctuation in the power grid in your home can lead to fluctuations in reliability, speed, and network integrity. For these reasons, those two solutions never really boomed in the home networking or commercial markets. This brings us to the third "major" breakthrough over the past years in home networking. The 802.11 networking standard was established. Let me get something off my chest for a minute or two. Wireless is the future. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. The potential convenience and capabilities of wireless nets of the future are incomprehensible and just mind-boggling. Like I said in one of my previous reviews, there are no wires in Star Trek. It is only a matter of time before wired Ethernet becomes second to wireless networks. At the current rate of innovation and adoption, it is inevitable that wireless will dominate. Well, I think I went off on a little rant there so onto the review again. Today, we have the Sohoware Netblaster II wireless networking kit on our chopping board.

IEEE 802.11b Networking In A Nutshell

A Wireless LAN (WLAN) is basically a Local Area Network, which uses radio signals rather than the conventional wiring of Ethernet and Fiber Optics. The origins of 802.11 were in the corporate world in which companies needed a way to connect their massive base networks to a smaller group of client computers. This allowed the client computers to use the full resources and data of the base network and vice versa. When the wireless standard was first introduced as 802.11 4 years ago, many companies embraced it and made products that were not proprietary but shared the standard so you could interchange units from various companies. Have a D-Link access point and a Linksys adapter and they will work together thanks to the standard. Why hasn't it become popular so far? The 802.11 only had a maximum speed of 1-2 Mbps, making it too slow to support activity other than browsing the Internet on. It cannot perform tasks that a LAN network should be capable of. 1Mbps translates to roughly 120kbps, moving large files would take ages and multiplayer gaming will be lagged. While adoption of the 802.11 was slow in the corporate world, it caught some fans in the home networking world who just wanted to share Internet access and printers. Last year, the IEEE introduced the 802.11b standard, upping the transmission frequency to 2.4GHz and also the speed to a hearty 11Mbps at peak throughput. This makes it more feasible for companies to deploy in their networks as it reaches and sometimes surpasses the speeds of a 10Base-T network. The 802.11b standard also makes wireless a great choice in the home as multiplayer gaming and file transfer speeds will also be greatly enhanced. The 802.11b standard is backwards compatible with earlier 802.11 standards. To get a better understanding of how the network standard works, please visit this site.

Specs

This kit contains:

NetBlaster II Wireless Hub
(1) NetBlaster II PC Card

NetBlaster II Hub

1. CableFREE Means Wireless Broadband Sharing

The NetBlaster II wireless hub connects one or more wireless - enabled computers to an Ethernet network or Cable/xDSL modem for high speed Internet sharing, anywhere in your home or office.

2. 11 Mbps Data Rate / 150-500 ft Indoor Range

The NetBlaster II runs with data-intensive applications like MP3, multimedia, gaming and streaming video/audio - even through walls, floors and ceilings. You get Ethernet quality networking without wires or cables - ideal for standard networking requirements.

3. Superior Antenna Design

Dual dipole antenna provides superior polarized reception and diversity transmission for the best signal quality.

4. Interoperable With any 802.11b Compliant Devices

The NetBlaster II fully complies with IEEE 802.11b protocol, allowing full interoperability with any similarly certified wireless product.

5. WEP Security to Insure Privacy

NetBlaster II Wireless PC Card

1. Fast, Cable Free Way to Share a Broadband Internet Connection

The NetBlaster II PC Card, equipped with the industry's most robust wireless antenna, allows your laptop PC to share Internet access and other network resources, from anywhere in your home or office.

2. 11 Mbps Data Rate High Speed Networking

The NetBlaster II PC card runs with data-intensive applications like MP3, multimedia, gaming and streaming video/audio - even through walls, floors and ceilings.

3. Interoperable With any 802.11b Compliant Devices

The NetBlaster II fully complies with IEEE 802.11b protocol, allowing full interoperability with any similarly certified wireless product.

4. Simple Installation Wizard Makes Set Up Hassle-Free

Intuitive set-up program eliminates configuration hassles. Whether you are computer savvy or a novice, you will appreciate how the software wizard guides you to a fast and easy hook up.

5. Unique CableFREE Utility With ''Network Hopper''

A suite of utility programs that will help you set up, monitor and manage resources on your wireless network. Plus, the Network Hopper function allows you to quickly switch between networks without reconfiguring your PC.

6. WEP Security to Insure Privacy

The Kit

Well, this is a "kit" but in actuality, it's just the hub and the PC Card in their own boxes thrown together into a bigger box. There is no "kit" manual or "kit" software, just the own individual documentation and software that came with the separate items. Let me start by telling you a bit about the Hub. The wireless hub is the base station for administrating all the activity within a wireless network. Although in some cases you might not need a hub, if you plan on having more than 2 computers or expanding your computer farms in the future, a hub is the way to go. When you use two wireless adapters in ADHOC mode, they can just talk to each other without going through a hub but that would post a few problems: 1) When a computer that has the internet connection and printer is off, the other computer cannot access either the internet or the printer 2) You don't have the room to upgrade in the future and the rage of the wireless network is shortened. 3) The burden of distribution of broadband goes to one computer, draining resources. The Netblaster II is basically a transmitter and receiver. Computers on the network talk to each other through the hub and usually, DSL/cable access goes into the hub so the hub can distribute it through to all the computers connected in a 300ft+ radius. Very convenient if you have a big place or your computers are farther apart, a hub right in the middle of the physical network means a farther range of the signal. Don't get the wrong idea...Internet access isn't what the WLAN kit is all about. There are also other ways the kit can be of use. It can replace the many feet of Ethernet cable in your house or office, it can give you true portability in a laptop, it can perform every task that a wired LAN does. It's a great and easy alternative to wiring. The great thing about the system is that it's compatible with an existing wired network. Lets say you just set up a nifty -computer 100Base-T network in your living room (switch and 3 Ethernet cards) and you want to connect the lonely computer in your sister's room to the network and also give it the fast Internet access it deserves. Since the room is 250 feet away and you don't want to run a wire all the way through the wall, a wireless solution is ideal. You buy a kit, plug the AP into of the ports in your hub/switch, then install the adapter card in the lonely computer and voila! You have the lonely computer connected to the 3 other computers to share files, printers, and most importantly.. the Internet. The lonely computer isn't so lonely anymore. There is no need to replace your current LAN if you don't need to, it's just great to add computers that are isolated or add newfound portability to a laptop. Going wireless sure has its perks. The NetBlaster II hub is auto detecting and plug and play. As soon as the hub detects an internet connection, it obtains a DHCP IP and then it sends IP's to all the computers connected to the network. That's basically it's only job and it performs it well. If you think about it, this hub is just like a standard Ethernet hub in the way that it gives IP's to all the computers connected and allows for internal connectivity within the bounds of the networking range. With default settings, 11Mbps transmit and receive speeds are normal but you can set them to: 11Mbps, 5.5Mbps, 2Mbps, 1Mbps or auto through software included with the kit. Running on a 2.4Ghz frequency, it can transmit up to 100meters with typical indoor obstructions and up to 300meters outdoors with no obstructions. In the case that there is a huge area that the wireless network needs to cover, multiple hubs can be employed to relay signals to each other to form a larger radius. Now what can I say about the PC Card that could be mildly interesting? Well, it has a orange LED visible from the protruding, unattractive block antenna it has. As a PC Card (note: write about the signal failure), it performs just like any ethernet card. It is detected as a network adapter and then it starts receiving signals from the hub.

Installation

This has got to have been the easiest installation I ever had. I think it was even a little bit easier than the D-Link units we tested. Software installation and drivers weren't so picky this time around and installed without a hitch. In my last review, I mentioned cross-platform compatibility between multiple OS'es. Here's the snip: "Several boxes with different OS's can communicate with each other regardless of their specs or contents. For the test, I set up the wireless AP in my living room with a connection to a D-Link switch in port 3 with 2 other computers connected in ports 1 and 2. A DSL modem is connected to the uplink port on the switch. In the directions, it says to make sure that the AP and adapters are a good few feet away from components that might cause interference such as a computer or a monitor. After installing the Access Point, I powered it up and went to install the wireless adapter in my sister's computer in her room about 125 feet away. There are about 3 walls to get through to get to her room so this is a good testing environment. The 3 computers all use different versions of windows. There was one with Windows 2000, one with Whistler Beta, and the other with good old Windows 98 (sister's PC)." The great thing is that I still have this setup so I can test the Sohoware unit on the same platform as I did the D-Link unit. When Installing, I noticed that signal strengths are indeed stronger as I moved the hub farther and farther from the computers I had. As for moving the adapter farther from the computer, this is a no-go since it actually goes into the computer. Installation this time went without a hitch again. I plugged the hub into my router and it fired right up and detected the connection and the adapter once installed, detected the signal coming from the access point. For the heck of it, I used a USB D-Link adapter also to see if I can make the it and the hub communicate effectively. I had my doubts, but when I changed a setting in the control panel of the D-Link unit, it detected the Sohoware hub and started to get signal from it too! I was really impressed at how this network protocol made everything so easy, even with units from more than one company. As soon as I got my network up and running with everyone visible on the network, I started the testing.

Usage

Nothing special at the least, until you think about all that data floating around your head. Since this acts like a normal Ethernet adapter, it's just not any different if you've experienced an Ethernet connection before. Filesharing, printer sharing, Internet access is all shared and available although not at breakneck speeds. I was a bit annoyed at the slow transfer times of music files but was satisfied at the speed of the Internet connection and effective sharing of the printer. I also noticed that the Netblaster II PC Card lost almost all signal reception, when I had my hand under the PC Card obstruction which is the antenna but reception was fine when I had my hand above it. This is not a plus if you do your laptop computing on your bed where the comforter can muffle the underside of the antenna and cut your signal to a crawl.

Performance

Performance is a big issue with wireless networks since there are many factors that can affect speed as opposed to wired networks. When a network is running on a frequency that is pretty common, things can get a big busy in the air. Nevertheless, we haven't hit a time when there are enough devices to unnecessarily disrupt the normal operation of the 802.11v standard. People have this notion that wireless is slow and wired is fast. This is true for now since the gigabit Ethernet and the 11mbps 802.11b network are so far in speed. BUT, you WONT notice the different in browsing the internet. I did not notice a difference browsing through my switch than I did browsing through the wireless hub. Benchmarks are below for comparison. As for file transfers, that's a different story. Transferring files took an insanely long amount of time, especially when you're used to 100mbit Ethernet to transfer with.

In gaming, the ping times were a bit higher but nothing you'd notice unless you're a hardcore gamer, which in that case, you shouldn't be playing on a wireless net. I did notice that there was a bit of a pause before I opened files through the wireless network, the same pause wasn't apparent through the wired network.

Benchmarks

Here's the killer or the savior. Thus far, I was impressed the installation and performance of the kit. We set up a few copying tests from one computer to the other and we took down the times and calculated the bitrate at which it was transferred.

Willa Ford - I Wanna Be Bad MPEG 44MB transferred at 4.2Mb/s to and from the network
Various small files (100MB) transferred at 3.6Mb/s to and from the network

Although not at it's peak rated speed of 11Mbps, this is still a good speed considering I might not be at the amazingly impossible conditions I'll need to get up to 11Mbps. Fast enough for everything except transferring large files, which I suggest you get a good pillow for.

SiSoft tests were inconclusive as I got an error message that the transfer packet was too large for the network.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Good construction
  • Easy installation
  • Great overall performer
  • Convinience

Cons

  • Slow in some tests
  • Pricey

Conclusion

I love wireless networks, I have one in my house so I can play around on the internet while using the bathroom and taking baths...maybe not such a good idea but if you think about it. Wireless Internet makes everything so much more convenient, especially with this kit. It enabled my once dormant laptop to become useful once again. Although this kit performs very admirably and is a very solid protect. It's price might be a bit high at around $300. Investment wise, it might be good because it's the future and it's really more convenient than stringing Cat-5 all throughout your house. The hub itself is very aesthetically pleasing and solid in construction so it's durable and sleek and with a range of a little under spec, it's a good performer. I'd say with all the positives and convenience alone, this product is one of the best I've seen since the old offerings from D-Link and it may very well surpass that.

Rating: 8/10 SystemLogistics

Re-Printed From SLCentral